More on Monitors... Tech specs and models for the most of us

While gas plasma and other cutting-edge technologies push the envelope, most of us are looking for more down-to-earth solutions. The technology has improved offerings in this range as well. Higher resolutions, finer dot pitch and more automatic display adjustments by the hardware have migrated to this level.

Yet prices have remained relatively constant. The range is fairly wide to encompass many models, but an average range would be $400-$800 for a 15-inch color SVGA monitor - for Mac or PC machines.

Keep in mind that a monitor often outlives the computer you buy it for. And that you have to stare at it for hours, days, hopefully years. Be sure to really like what you see.

Some people will see distinctive characteristics to certain manufacturers' monitors. To my eye, Sony Trinitrons seem dark black with rich colors; while a NEC's hues seem brighter. It's largely personal taste, as to which -- if any -- you'll prefer. 

  • TIPS
  • Don't buy a monitor with "better specs" if you're not happy with its colors or clarity.
  • Do conduct "eyes-on" comparisons with other models - preferably side by side.
  • Don't limit yourself to known brands, but do check references of unfamiliar manufacturers. Call them, see their website and research their track record.

Key Specs
All that said, knowing a few specs will help to make decisions with confidence.

  • Dot Pitch: Its not a literal truth, but you can think of dot pitch as how small each "glowable dot" is that makes up your screen. Thus, the smaller the number, the better. The general range is .29mm (point 29 millimeters) to .24mm. Mid-level monitors in this price range are .29mm to .26, at best.
  • Active Display Area: Also known as "viewable area," this is the real size of the screen, measured diagonally in inches. Many are smaller than you'd guess, so it pays to compare. Other such measurements may include a bezel, mask frame or other parts of the casework.
  • Scan Rate or Frequency: This spec comes into play more in monitors used to display video, technical programs and graphics-oriented programming. However, one can plan ahead. Very briefly, the higher the rate in kHz. the better it can keep up -- with MMX, with the new 3D and accelerated graphics cards, and now specially designed chipsets right on the mainboard.

If You Want to Go In Depth
Several online resources provide much more technical depth on the specs and what they actually mean.

David Hawks, for example, offers up "Snake Oil, Miracle Cures & Computer Monitors" makes the topic fairly readable - and includes a Monitors Comparison Chart  or four.

Dot pitch is explained well in a 1995 Computer Shopper article. "Connecting the Dots: How to Choose a Monitor With Perfect Pitch for Your Needs" has color charts and other visuals to explain how a monitor display really works.

Jump to Manufacturers

Dozens of American, Japanese and Korean manufacturers make PC monitors. For convenience, we've tried to link the URLs below directly to their Display Products pages on the Web. Some go to the start of Java and CGI scripts of Product Search areas, or last resort, to a home page.

Some sites feature additional info -- trends, company advancements, reviews or technical backgrounders. Eizo has a white paper on CRT glare. Sony has lots of info, as d'es Apple. Never pass up the chance to learn a thing or two.

  • Apple's monitors, now for Power Macs, have been Trinitrons. See the current Apple breed.
  • Compaq offers an award-winning 17-monitor; do a search on Compaq's site for V70 monitor.
  • Mitsubishi has 15-, 17- and larger monitors, plus other imaging products.
  • Nanao is a good line, manufactured by Eizo.
  • NEC's MultiSync monitors are highly regarded.
  • Panasonic's PanaSync line and more is outlined in detail.
  • Radius gave us the Pivot. Professional uses -- publishing & pre-press -- are still are a focus.
  • Smile International uses NEC technology in its line.
  • Sony's Trinitron monitors, plus related products and information is all at this off-shoot site.

ViewSonic also has lots of models for the mid-range.

This article originally appeared in the 08/01/1997 issue of THE Journal.